The New Mercy Seat

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.
~John 20:11-12

I “discovered” this verse last year around Easter, I think. It may have been the Easter before; I’m not sure. What I do remember is that I had an immediate image in my mind as I read it, and it looked a little like this:

The ark of the covenant.

This is a modern interpretation of what the Ark of the Covenant may have looked like, based on the specifications recorded in the Old Testament. Kept behind two veils in the Holy of Holies within the tabernacle, the Ark contained manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets on which the ten commandments were inscribed by God. The lid, with the two angels facing each other, was called the mercy seat. This is where the blood from the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was sprinkled, and this is where mercy was conferred upon the people of Israel via God’s very presence in a cloud (see Leviticus 16). The Day of Atonement was (and is) an annual holy day in the Jewish faith, a day of repentance and propitiation for sins.

So what’s the connection? Well, look again at what Mary saw when she looked in the tomb:

…she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.

Maybe it means nothing. The other Gospels don’t give this detail. Matthew and Mark only mention one angel, and while Luke does mention two, they were standing. So, you know. I wouldn’t get into any kind of debate with anyone about this.

Still — what a precious detail it seems to be. That Ark of the Covenant, now long gone, is no longer necessary. The Perfect Sacrifice made atonement once and for all; His blood undoubtedly seeped onto His (temporary) resting place, mirroring the sprinkling of blood of the yearly sacrifice. Then His body is gone, the triumph attained, and two shining angels are left at the head and the foot of where He had been, bringing to life the image of that mercy seat of old. What a beautiful picture of a new mercy seat, a permanent and final one!

So now when I imagine that empty tomb, I always see that beautiful, new mercy seat, and this old hymn bounces around my head:

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
~Robert Lowry


(I miss the days when I knew with certainty that we’d sing this on Easter morning. It was fun to hear my husband play it on the piano for me this morning! Bom.. bom-bom-bom… BOM-BOM-BOM!!!! Hee hee. I love it!)

Happy, happy Resurrection Sunday, this most holy of holy days!